What 65,000 Words In One Month Feels Like: My Life So Far As A Full-time Freelancer

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On Monday August 25, 2014, I quit my job.

It’s not something I broadcasted or touted on social media (okay, I did a bit on Twitter, but that’s kind of like yelling into a bottomless pit where thousands of other people are screaming, ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’, so obviously no one really noticed except for a few pals), I just did it and did it without an ounce of regret.

The reasons I quit are numerous, but mostly it had to do with my 108 mile daily commute and the fact that I was basically in a dead end job with no real chance of advancement or a significant raise in pay. (But isn’t that every job to one extent or another?) So, yeah, I just quit. Mrs. Rawson, of course, knew what I was doing, but other than her, no one else was aware. By the way, folks, if you’ve never just quit a job you can’t stand—this was the first and probably last time I’ll ever do it—it’s one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever experience and I highly recommend it if you get the opportunity.

Originally the idea was for me to just get another job in my latest field (social media) and that was that. For about three weeks, I hit the virtual pavement, turning in around 60 resumes and starting each morning in front of my computer with various job search websites open, ready to receive my greasy little CV. I was doing okay in the job hunt. I’d had a phone interview and one face-to-face interview, (one of the guys I interviewed with was actually a fan of my short stories and LitReactor columns, so that was kind of cool) but overall looking for a job was fairly drudgerous and unproductive. I was enjoying that I suddenly had gangs of time to work on my writing, plus being a house husband and not having to get up at 4:30 to drive an hour to one of the worst neighborhoods in Phoenix was pretty nice.

Yeah, I actually had a business plan, and to be blunt, if you don’t have one, get one.

But after three weeks, things were relatively fruitless and then Mrs. Rawson suggested something I never thought she would:  She suggested I try becoming a full-time freelancer. I’ll admit it, I was a little floored by it, especially since both Mrs. Rawson and I both come from very working class backgrounds, and the idea of being unemployed—even purposefully unemployed—is kind of a sacrilege. But after getting over my initial shock, I said fuck it and charged full bore into freelance life.

If You Don’t Have A Plan, Get One

Thankfully I had a plan if the opportunity to go freelance ever became available to me. Yeah, I actually had a business plan, and to be blunt, if you don’t have one, get one. That’s right, actually sit down and write out how you would make a living as a writer.

I know all of us don’t like to think about the ‘business’ side of writing. All of us are beautiful and unique snowflakes and oh-so precious. But when you freelance full-time, you’re essentially becoming your own small business. So long before I ever thought about quitting my job, I actually had a business plan in place that I had discussed with Mrs. Rawson several times. (By the way, folks, probably the biggest key to my scenario is Mrs. Rawson. Mrs. R has always been extremely supportive of my writing and right now she is shouldering our financial life. This is slowly shifting, but I give Mrs. R HUGE props for letting me stretch my creative legs.) So she knew that the plan was fairly solid. Plus, I already had close to a decade of publication credits under my belt, so that made me fairly attractive to websites and other publications.

The first couple of months of freelancing, money was sporadic. Work came in drips and drabs, but I stayed busy with fiction and taking care of my house and family. Then suddenly in December, I found myself with around 65,000 words of contracted work, and let me tell you, that shit was a little scary. Up until that point, the most I had probably written in one month was around 25,000 words, but now here I was staring in the face of the word count equivalent of a short novel.

I know a ton of you participate in NaNoWriMo (who else thinks this is the most annoying acronym ever?) and a good chunk of you have churned out 50,000 + words in a month. But I’ve read my share of NaNoWriMo novels, and the bulk of them have been a disjointed mess. The one good thing about NaNoWriMo novels is that after you’ve finished them, you have the benefit of taking them and whipping them into readable shape. I didn’t have that benefit, what I had to produce had to be publication ready articles, book and movie reviews, columns, and one book. It seemed like an impossible task. It wasn’t though, I was up for it.

Say Goodbye To Free Time

This, in general, has been my biggest obstacle with freelance life: I don’t know when to shut down. One of the biggest benefits of working a day job is that when the day is done, it’s done. Once you leave the office and get in your car, jump on a train or bus or however else you get home, you can simply zone out the day. You can go home, eat dinner, watch television, jerk off to internet porn, whatever. But with freelancing, my office is right downstairs when I wake up in the morning, and with my gig, there’s always something to do and I always feel like I should be doing it. This was particularly true in December with such a large work load on my hands.

And mentally, well, at the end of each day I feel like the guy in 'Scanners' whose head explodes.

And trust me, I wanted to screw around. Here’s the other downside of my home office. My office houses around 2000 books and my collection of action figures. My office is an infantile middle-aged male’s wet dream come true, and after nearly four years of being away from my little fantasy den 12 hours a day, five days a week, I wanted nothing more than to be able to kick back and crack into my seemingly bottomless to-be-read pile.

And don’t even get me started about the near constant siren song of the internet. Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo, Facebook, Twitter … Goddamn, all of it is so fucking inviting!

But I had to bury all that desire to binge read and watch and fuck around on social media, and I just wrote and wrote and wrote some more for an average of 11 hours a day. My biggest one day total was 10,000 words, the smallest was 3000, and I hit—more or less—all of my deadlines a day or two in advance. (Thank the Jebus my editor here at LitReactor, Josh Chaplinsky, is kind of used to me cutting deadlines close.)

So What Does 65,000 Words In One Month Literally Feel Like?

Physically, well, it hurts. I always used to think carpal tunnel syndrome was absolute bullshit. But not anymore! At the end of every day, the first two knuckles of my right hand look like walnuts and feel like I have shards of glass floating around in them. My right elbow and wrist are also just kind of numb most (all) of the time. And, unfortunately, I’m a sloucher when I’m working, so my lower back and tailbone usually feel like they’re fused together. And mentally, well, at the end of each day I feel like the guy in Scanners whose head explodes. Plus my overall level of anxiety was kind of off the charts. But, seriously, I’m not complaining about any of this. I’m getting to do what I’ve worked a lifetime to accomplish, and despite all the little aches and pains and the lack of free time, I know how lucky I am.

What’s Next?

So I don’t know if I’ll ever take on that much paid work again. I’m sure it will happen, but I’m hoping there’s at least a month in-between so I can focus a good hunk of my day on my material. And so far this month, that’s what I’ve been doing. Over the last four years, I’ve managed to stockpile a pretty massive amount of unpublished short fiction in various notebooks and hard drives (I’ve also published about 20 or so pieces in that time, too). So I’ve decided to gather it all up and start self-releasing three volumes of short stories as well as the two novellas I churned out over the past couple of years. And there’s a poetry collection, too, and a novel that’s a pubic hair away from being done. And I’m starting my own website where I’ll be blogging on a daily basis, and, of course, I’ll still be writing for LitReactor and the various other websites and publications I’ve been hired to write for.

I know this all sounds really ambitious, but, honestly, I’m giving myself two years to see if I can pull my own weight financially. I’m pretty confident it will happen, but if it doesn’t, oh well, I’ll rejoin the rat race without a complaint, and keep writing in my spare time just like I always have. But you can bet your ass that I’m going to take full advantage of this time.

One last challenge I set for myself during the month of December was that I wanted to try and write a pulpy 60,000 word crime novel in three weeks just to see if I could do it.

I’m four days and 8000 words in. Does anyone else want to join me?

Image of Scanners (Blu-ray + DVD) The Criterion Collection
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer O'Neill, Stephen Lack, Patrick McGoohan
Rating: R (Restricted)
Keith Rawson

Column by Keith Rawson

Keith Rawson is a little-known pulp writer whose short fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published both online and in print. He is the author of the short story collection The Chaos We Know (SnubNose Press)and Co-Editor of the anthology Crime Factory: The First Shift. He lives in Southern Arizona with his wife and daughter.

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Comments

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 16, 2015 - 8:31am

Well done, brother. Best of luck with it. I know your pain, I do. I wrote 68,000 words, an entire novel in December, so I think we were both probably rubbing our hands a lot, and muttering curses at the pain. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know!

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk January 16, 2015 - 8:31am

Wow, great article.

Well I've been writing a pulpy crime novel, (me first go at a novel) and have been at it for six months, got about 30k done on a short hand draft, got stuck so started a copy edit draft. Reading this is making me feel really, really slow :S

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones January 16, 2015 - 8:44am

@big_old_dave - I'm not trying to make anyone feel slow or like they aren't doing enough of their own writing. Write at your own pace and get your projects done. The main difference is that I'm trying to make a living as a writer, so I've got to be quick and focused.

Liam Sweeny's picture
Liam Sweeny from Albany, NY is reading Country Hardball January 16, 2015 - 9:00am

Wow, Keith, that's an incredible workload. I hope you hit that mark (on both the financial and pulpy crime novel). I've thought of freelancing, and this makes me want to work out a business plan.

 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson January 16, 2015 - 9:08am

You're a machine.

And if it was anyone else cutting those deadlines on me, they'd be AXED!

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones January 16, 2015 - 9:09am

@Liam - You should definitely put a business plan together, I think you could do it if you set your mind to it. I will give you this warning, though. Money in freelancing is kind of feast or famine. One week you may only have $100 coming in, the next you have $1500. So financially you have to plan ahead and you have to get yourself out of the paycheck mindset. It's tough, but you can do it.

Tony McMillen's picture
Tony McMillen from Mostly glorious Tucson Arizona but now I live near Boston. is reading Not, I'm writing January 16, 2015 - 9:11am

This is a great read. I like your honestly about how the freelance life can drag and what's cool about it too. I'm a freelancer as well, I write articles and illustrate and design book covers, I've been doing the freelance thing since I hurt my back at my old job and needed to shore up some more funds. It's been ups and downs for me the last 3 years doing it and right now it's been a lot of downs so I'm looking for a steady job to keep me afloat until I can get more freelance stuff. This article keeps me motivated that this is just a temporary setback and that at some point I'll again have enough frelance work to live off of. Thanks.

Keith's picture
Keith from Phoenix, AZ is reading Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones January 16, 2015 - 9:15am

@Josh - you know I appreciate your constant levity with me.

@Tony - I'm sorry freelancing is going rough for you right now, I know things will turn around for you.

Deets999's picture
Deets999 from Connecticut is reading Gravitys Rainbow January 16, 2015 - 9:20am

Win, lose or draw - good for you!

You never know how stuff works out unless you take the plunge - and it sounds like you got the work ethic to make a real go of it, rooting for you!

NikKorpon's picture
NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and January 16, 2015 - 9:28am

I'm equal parts terrified for you and insanely jealous of you. Very inspiring article, Rawson.

Terrye Toombs's picture
Terrye Toombs from Alaska is reading Order of Seven January 16, 2015 - 10:20am

First off, congratulations on finding freedom. I have quit a job like that and it's the best feeling! Secondly, I live in Phoenix and there's NO where I'd wanna be driving to at 4:30am. You probably saved your life by quitting that job. I will try to join you in your quest to write a novel. Good luck to you!

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb January 16, 2015 - 10:57am

Good for you, and great column! I'm a pretty seasoned churner of wordcount and NaNo felt a bit like shooting fish in a barrel for me, but what you're doing is the next step up from anything I've ever managed. Actually making writing good as fast as the likes of me can get it down. Great way to up the stakes, and hope you're enjoying it even though you're now that guy from Scanners. (And you've reminded me I really must get a copy of that film.)

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk January 16, 2015 - 10:59am

@keith please update us how you get on with the book  :)

JonathanC's picture
JonathanC from Ireland is reading a whole lot of stuff! always. January 16, 2015 - 7:46pm

Firstly, shout out to Mrs. Rawson - she seems absolutely amazing.

Also, this article is so damn inspiring. I have my own ambitious goals (by my standards, anyway) for writing this year so I couldn't help but go "That's awesome!", at various points in this article.

I hope everything goes great for you over these next two years!! Good luck, man!!

Renato Bratkovič's picture
Renato Bratkovič from Slovenia is reading Noir fiction January 18, 2015 - 1:30am

A great and inspiring post, Keith! Congrats on both the decision and accomplishment. And thumbs up for Mrs. R, too! :)

All the best,
Renato

Travel African Girl's picture
Travel African Girl February 18, 2015 - 11:06pm

Way to go Mr R! That's pretty cool, I want to freelance as well, I am a travel blogger for now:africanahgirl.com

im trying to improve my content that's why I came to look at this site, looking for writing tips..